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Cambodia welcomes ‘fighting team’


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Focus will be on Cambodia as it welcomes Team Philippines together with thousands of athletes, coaches and officials for the 32nd Southeast Asian Games that officially open on Friday at the 60,000-seater Morodok Techo National Stadium.

It will be the first time for the Cambodians to host the biennial event since joining the Southeast Asian Games Federation Council in 1961.

More than 11,000 delegates from countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Brunei, Vietnam, Timor Leste, Singapore and Laos will descend on this enchanting city for the Games that run until 17 May.

Regional glory is up for grabs, but competitors will also have one eye on the Asian Games in China in September as well as the Summer Olympics in Paris next year.

The Philippines, for one, is marching to the Games aiming to surpass its fourth-place finish of 52 gold, 70 silver and 105 bronze medals in the previous edition in Hanoi last year.

The Filipinos already deployed their biggest batch of delegates of 140 athletes on Tuesday, including those from centerpiece sports athletics and aquatics as well as from pencak silat, Kun Bokator, swimming, boxing, teqball and Esports.

They joined the delegates from sailing, chess, hockey, men’s volleyball, triathlon, soft tennis, jiu jitsu, and pentathlon who were already in the Cambodian capital as early as last week in preparation for their respective events that came ahead of the opening ceremony.

Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino is also already in town to lead the flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday morning, marking the formal entry of Team Philippines in the Athletes Village.

Also arriving ahead of other delegates are Philippine Sports Commission chairperson Richard “Dickie” Bachmann and one of his commissioners in Olivia “Bong” Coo as well as chief of mission Chito Loyzaga and his deputies in Paolo Tancontian and Len Escollante.

“Team Philippines is ready for action and I believe each and every Filipino athlete is in harness for these Games,” Tolentino, who was on the same flight with POC secretary general Ed Gastanes and deputy secretary general Karen Caballero, said.

“As the POC always says, Filipino athletes are always a fighting team.”

Southeast Asia’s finest will take part in a host of competitions including athletics, swimming, badminton and football, as well as more obscure sports such as Kun Bokator, an ancient Cambodian martial art.

The Games will welcome world-class athletes such as pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena and weightlifter Vanessa Sarno, both from the Philippines.

But fellow Philippine weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, a Tokyo Olympic gold medalist, will not compete.

Another notable absentee is swimmer Joseph Schooling, Singapore’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics gold medalist, who pulled out in March saying he was “not at the level” to do his best.

The Games usually take place every other year but because of the pandemic the previous edition, in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, was just 12 months ago.

The hosts topped the medal table, ahead of Thailand and Indonesia.

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